Gently exchanging quotations from Alexander Hamilton, two presidential contenders who will play major roles in the fight over the Supreme Court nomination of Appeals Court Judge Robert H. Bork yesterday disagreed on how the Senate should deal with the issue.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), a candidate for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination, accused President Reagan of attempting to "remake the court in his own image" through the Bork nomination and said the Senate has an obligation to consider Bork's overall "judicial philosophy and the consequences for the country" should he be confirmed.

Comparing the nomination of Bork with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "court-packing" plan of 50 years ago, Biden


"We are once again confronted with a popular president's determined attempt to bend the Supreme Court to his political ends. No one should dispute his right to try. But no one should dispute the Senate's duty to respond."

Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (Kan.), an unannounced candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, replied that any consideration of Bork's views on "specific political and social issues" would "offend common sense {and} be horribly shortsighted."

"The stark -- and to his opponents disconcerting -- fact is that Judge Bork's views are well within the acceptable range of legal debate and, if presidential elections mean anything at all, are probably much closer to the mainstream of American thought than that of most of his political critics," Dole said.

The low-key exchange, which took place in a nearly empty Senate chamber early yesterday morning, underscored the stakes involved for Biden and Dole as they prepare to lead the opposing sides in the Bork

confirmation fight while each man is seeking his party's presidential nomina- tion.

Arguing that the Senate has repeatedly "scrutinized the political views and the constitutional philosophy" of Supreme Court nominees, Biden spoke for an hour from a text that was studded with scholarly references to the intentions of the Framers of the Constitution and Senate precedents stretching back to the administration of George Washington.

Biden's speech was well advertised in advance and Dole clearly had no intention of allowing his Democratic rival an unobstructed spotlight. Dole arrived in the Senate yesterday armed with a more brief, prepared response that also quoted the Framers, constitutional scholars and Senate precedents to buttress his contention that Bork's political views should have no place in the confirmation process.

Biden quoted Federalist Paper 76, written by Hamilton, that Senate review of Supreme Court nominations would prevent a president from appointing justices to be " 'the obsequious instruments of his pleasure.' " In his reply, Dole quoted the same document as saying the president was to be "the principal agent" in the judicial process, with the Senate acting to prevent the appointment of " 'unfit characters.' "

Following the two carefully crafted, polite speeches, Senate Minority Whip Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.) interjected a sharper tone to the debate, accusing the Democrats of attempting to conceal their intentions behind a screen of "vapid rationalization and ponderous historical precedent."

"If we are going to oppose the Bork nomination simply because Judge Bork was nominated by a conservative, Republican president, why don't we just come out and say so and clean up the process?" Simpson said. "Let him have it and stop the posturing."

Meanwhile, another preliminary skirmish in the confirmation fight took place yesterday as Republican senators boycotted a Judiciary Committee meeting to protest Biden's decision to begin hearings on the Bork nomination Sept. 15. GOP leaders are seeking a committee vote on Bork by Sept. 15 and a written commitment that the nomination will be considered by the Senate by Oct. 1, according to Republican aides.

Biden has said he expects Senate floor debate on the nomination to begin by Oct. 1 but has rejected a demand for a "date certain" for committee action.

The jockeying occurred as an aide to Senate Majority Whip Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) said a preliminary vote count by Cranston showed 45 senators for confirmation of Bork, 45 opposed and 10 undecided.

Aides to Biden said yesterday's speech was meant to "lay a foundation" enabling Bork's critics to oppose him "on grounds of judicial and political philosophy." While recent examinations of Supreme Court nominees generally have been confined to questions of professional competence and personal integrity, historically the Senate has considered a nominee's political views, one aide said.

In making his case, Biden implicitly acknowledged that, from what is known, Bork is professionally and personally qualified for the high court nomination. But he said that "in case after case, {the Senate} has rejected professionally qualified nominees because of the perceived effect of their views on the court and the country."

"In certain cases," he added, "the Senate has performed a constitutional function in attempting to resist the president's efforts to remake the Supreme Court in his own image."

Biden said the key standards for the Senate to consider are a nominee's "detachment and statesmanship."

"When the president selects nominees on the basis of their detachment and their statesmanship, with a sensitivity to the balance of the court and the concerns of the country, then the Senate should be inclined to respond in kind," he said.

But speaking of Reagan's high court nominees, Biden said that "in recent years it has struck many of us that the ground rules have been changed. Increasingly, nominees have been selected with more attention to their judicial philosophy and less attention to their detachment and statesmanship."

In these circumstances, he added, "a senator has not only the right but the duty to respond by carefully weighing the nominee's judicial philosophy and the consequences for the country."

In his speech, Dole said Bork "has in large part made his formidable reputation by arguing for a neutral, nonpolitical and nonpersonal kind of judging, for a reaffirmation of the great principle of judicial restraint. His opponents fear only that the application of that traditional principle will not result in judicial decisions that will advance their own political and social agendas."